Dec 01

“The Homesman”: Mental Health Issues in the Old West

Hilary Swank and Tommy Lee Jones are getting kudos for their roles in the new female-centric Western called The Homesman, directed and co-written by Jones. The film, adapted from a 1988 novel by Glendon Swarthout, is also getting some decent reviews.

The official description of the film:

When three women living on the edge of the American frontier are driven mad by harsh pioneer life, the task of saving them falls to the pious, independent-minded Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank). Transporting the women by covered wagon to Iowa, she soon realizes just how daunting the journey will be, and employs a low-life drifter, George Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones), to join her. The unlikely pair and the three women (Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto, Sonja Richter) head east, where a waiting minister and his wife (Meryl Streep) have offered to take the women in. But the group first must traverse the harsh Nebraska Territories marked by stark beauty, psychological peril and constant threat.

Other people met along the way include “an opportunistic cowboy (Tim Blake Nelson)…and an unctuous innkeeper (James Spader), unrealistically holding out for a better class of clientele than one usually finds on the lone prairie” (Pete Vonder Haar, Village Voice).

You can view the trailer below:

The Mental Health Issues

Peter Debruge, Variety, comments on attitudes toward mental health issues back then and now:

‘People like to talk about death and taxes, but when it comes to crazy, they stay hushed up,’ notes a townsperson in the hardscrabble Nebraska Territories where the seemingly linear but surprisingly unpredictable story begins. That amateur philosopher’s observation is as true today as it might have been in 1854, which means instead of rehashing the same stale Old West stories that have all but exhausted the genre, ‘The Homesman’…has the unique advantage of exploring a relatively overlooked chapter of America’s past.

Fiona Williams,, about the film’s setup: “A town meeting is called to address a community mental health crisis, described euphemistically by the preacher (John Lithgow) as ‘some trouble amongst the women.’ A trio of females have succumbed to their darker instincts, driven mad by alienation, bad marriages, and the stockpiling corpses of their sick babies.”

Rex Reed, New York Observer: “The three demented women include a catatonic, doll-clutching 19-year-old (Meryl Streep’s daughter Grace Gummer) banished by her husband after losing her baby; a violent schizophrenic (Miranda Otto) who threw her newborn infant down the hole of an outhouse; and a hysterical immigrant (Sonja Richter) who lost her mother in the snow and now spends her days screaming for an exorcism from the devil.”

Overall Reviews

Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle: “Few will regret having seen ‘The Homesman,’ and yet it’s not exactly an enjoyable experience. The film occupies that peculiar space that many of us would prefer to believe doesn’t exist, a movie that’s worthy but often inert, by turns enriching and enervating: a good boring movie.”

A.O. Scott, New York Times: “‘The Homesman’ is both a captivating western and a meticulous, devastating feminist critique of the genre.”

Andrew O’Hehir, Salon: “A wrenching, relentless and anti-heroic western that stands among the year’s most powerful American films. Not everyone will like ‘The Homesman,’ but if you see it you won’t soon forget it.”

Jul 10

Stand Up for Mental Health: Comedy As a Form of Therapy

Many artists of all types, including comedians, have talked about their creativity being their chosen form of therapy. A few years ago comedian Kevin Hart, for example, said the following to an interviewer with AMC Theatres:

When you look at the greats, you know, from Pryor, Murphy, Cosby, the list can go on and on, they get so personable. And nothing is held back. It’s hey, this is my life, this is who I am. And sometimes you have to address the things that you don’t want to address, because it’s bottled up inside you. And we don’t figure it out until it’s too late, but we use comedy as therapy. This is my therapy. You know. I didn’t talk about my mom passing away. I never talked about my dad being on drugs. I didn’t talk about my relationship status, and me going through a divorce — these are all things I had just held in, and I was very very reserved about. And it got to a point where I was like, you know what? I’m a comedian! My fans will respect me more when I’m honest. The more honest I am with them, the more of an open book I am, the more they can relate to me and the more they can say, ‘Hey, you know what? Dude, I like this guy. I relate to this guy. He doesn’t care. Nothing’s held back.’ It’s funny but at the same time it’s real. And by me putting my real life out there, I think I got the best of me.

Counselor and humorist David Granirer actually created a program called Stand Up For Mental Health in which people with mental health issues can learn how to do stand-up comedy as a form of therapy. In the video below called “Cracking Up,” some participants introduce us to it.

You’ll need over six minutes to watch this—but it’s worth it.

If this whets your comedy appreciation appetite, clips of individual routines that have emerged from this program are available on the Stand Up for Mental Health website.

Below Granirer himself riffs to an audience on the topic of mental health stigma:

Aug 26

“Minding Therapy”: The Second Anniversary

On this date two years ago I began posting to my new blog Minding Therapy. A total of 523 posts, 522 consecutive weekdays—and one lone Saturday somewhere in there, the proud day I learned my novel of the same name had made someone’s “best” list.

An analysis of what’s been read most frequently on Minding Therapy (using WordPress statistics) finds that certain posts from the first year remain among the most popular. These include such movie/TV topics as the therapist boundaries in 50/50 and on How I Met Your Mother, “baby steps” in What About Bob?Saturday Night Live‘s Chantix spoof, the mental health issues of Charlie Brown and Lucy’s psychiatric assistance, and the special connection between a well-known singer/songwriter and his old friend, Jason Mraz and Charlie Mingroni.

Other hot topics this past year there have included a distillation of a magazine article (“5 Life Lessons from Psychology Today“) and pieces on introversion and detaching from one’s family.

And the post that’s soared the most mightily by far is one I never would have expected: “Therapy Office Design.” Although I’m guessing this interest is mostly from those wanting to decorate or redo their offices, maybe it’s actually from clients who wish they had better surroundings.

Far more posts than these seem appreciated to lesser degrees, and far more than that went almost totally overlooked as far as I can tell. But the sum of the parts is that there’s now a collection of two years worth of topics that may contain something someone someday might find interesting.

Who gets the most out of this blog? I think that would be me, very likely. I take topics of interest to me and as I research and write the posts I’m expanding my own knowledge—yes, so I can share it with others, but also for my own benefit. As it turns out, sometimes only for my own benefit, I think.

Although I don’t use social media (yet) myself, it’s so appreciated when you share my posts with the people on your radar. Please feel free to continue—below each post are buttons for this purpose.

Thanks, as always, for your interest and for reading and/or following Minding Therapy!




Jul 16

Maria Bamford: Humorous Mental Health Advocate

If you don’t already know Maria Bamford, she’s a stand-up comic who deals with her own mental health issues in a refreshing way—which makes her quite relevant to Minding Therapy (see previous post).

Today her new CD/DVD Ask Me About My New God! is being released. The CD is mostly material from Maria Bamford: the special special special!, her highly rated 2012 show, the one in which she directed a routine to an audience of two, her parents, who were seated in her apartment. 

For the CD, Bamford apparently performed the material anew, this time at a comedy club. Says Brett Watson, The Serious Comedy Site, “The material as delivered on The Special Special Special actually felt like an experiment. It was funny, but awkward. Here, on the new album, the listener is given the treat of pure, perfected stand-up comedy.”

The new bonus DVD is material from two of Bamford’s previous comedy specials. Jack Goodstein, Blog Critics, states that these “serve to emphasize just how much more effective she is when you can see her. She creates a voice, and she becomes that character.”

But that doesn’t mean he dislikes the (non-visual) CD. In fact, he reviews it thusly:

Almost from the first moment she opens her mouth, she has the listeners captivated, and once she has them she keeps them. There isn’t a down moment on the album. Whether she’s reeling off Paula Deen recipes as suicide notes (a bit that has some current resonance today, that it didn’t have last year); describing her sister’s style as a life coach, or her father’s grumpiness; or talking about dating at age 40, she keeps the momentum of the set building. It is a bravura performance, and it begs to be seen as well as heard.

A brief clip from the CD is below:

Although Erika Star, The Laugh Button, also misses actually seeing Bamford doing her “socially aware, self-deprecating humor,” she has high praise for the new CD. One excerpt from her review:

It’s hard to write a review of Bamford’s work that doesn’t include her effortless ability to create visual characters merely with voices and the brilliant ways in which she engages the stigma of mental illness, and ‘New God,’ is no exception. Her hilariously on-point voices, even of the most mundane archetypes, seem to be organic extensions of herself while allowing us a front-row seat into her creative genius. Anyone else delivering the line ‘Suicide, Anyone?’ would be faced with some gasps and groans, but Bamford owns the topic with such strength and knowledge and manages to tell people, ‘it’s ok’ or ‘it gets better’ with sarcastic, but genuine, sentiment.

Brett Watson has this discerning advice for the prospective CD listener: “Her material is surreal, dark, and deeply personal. It demands to be listened to multiple times, because you are undoubtedly going to miss a lot the first time through … either because you are laughing too hard, or quite simply because you didn’t ‘get it’ the first time.”

Want to see or hear more of Maria Bamford? Check out different parts of her website, or consider finding her on tour, or take in her web series Ask My Mom, in which she plays the “mom” who’s a “retired family therapist” doling out advice. Below is a clip:

May 10

Marc Maron, Paul Gilmartin: Mental Health and Comedy

Mixing mental health issues and comedy works—at least for two different guys, Marc Maron and Paul Gilmartin, who’ve become well known for this in their careers.

Marc Maron

Marc Maron currently has several big things going on: an ongoing and popular podcast (“WTF with Marc Maron“) in which he’s open about his own neuroses and interviews other comedians about their personal issues, a new book titled Attempting Normal, and an equally new TV series on IFC called Maron.

Attempting Normal came out several days before the TV show. As presented by his publisher:

Marc Maron was a parent-scarred, angst-filled, drug-dabbling, love-starved comedian who dreamed of a simple life: a wife, a home, a sitcom to call his own. But instead he woke up one day to find himself fired from his radio job, surrounded by feral cats, and emotionally and financially annihilated by a divorce from a woman he thought he loved. He tried to heal his broken heart through whatever means he could find—minor-league hoarding, Viagra addiction, accidental racial profiling, cat fancying, flying airplanes with his mind—but nothing seemed to work. It was only when he was stripped down to nothing that he found his way back.

Attempting Normal is Marc Maron’s journey through the wilderness of his own mind, a collection of explosively, painfully, addictively funny stories that add up to a moving tale of hope and hopelessness, of failing, flailing, and finding a way…

The weekly TV show that debuted last week is also based on Maron’s life, including the podcasts he conducts out of his garage. Molly Hart, NPR, asks Maron in a recent interview: “In all your work, you’re very open and honest about yourself and your relationships, and your issues with drugs and alcohol. How did you become such an unfiltered person? And how has that, if at all, changed your relationships?”

I think it’s important as a sober person and somebody who has been through struggles to be open about it, because it just shows that it’s possible, and it provides hope for others. Sometimes my honesty gets me into trouble. I’m not sure, after the book and the TV show, what my relationship with my father is going to be like. But it’s risky when you talk about yourself — you do have to be as diplomatic as possible and make some choices about the feelings of other people. When I wrote the book, there was an essay in there that my current girlfriend was not comfortable with, and she was right.

Below, the preview IFC showed before last Friday’s premiere episode:

Paul Gilmartin

In writing about his interview with Paul Gilmartin last year, Scott Gordon, AV Club, actually compared him to Marc Maron:

Comedians give audiences thousands of trails into madness and neuroses. Publicly mapping a way out might be self-defeating for someone with a long-running stand-up career, and Paul Gilmartin’s way isn’t Marc Maron’s firestorm of old wounds and eventual atonement. When he began his podcast, The Mental Illness Happy Hour, last year, Gilmartin set a tone of calm and vulnerability, interviewing fellow comedians…and support-group friends about depression, childhood sexual abuse, addiction, and all the other ‘battles in our heads.’ It could easily have become a self-indulgent morass of sordid details and drawn-out wallowing; but it turns out that Gilmartin is a patient and empathetic interviewer who spins the episodes toward how things can improve. His stated goal, in fact, is to get listeners to seek help and therapy. It probably also helps that Gilmartin’s mild-mannered style doesn’t scream ‘trouble.’

Gilmartin went off his meds at one point, and his depression became “awful, awful.” That’s when he got the idea of “interviewing people who have learned to identify the voice of darkness in their lives and separate it from reality, and talk about how we deal with darkness…I thought it would be fun to have a show that deals with that as openly and as honestly as I’ve experienced it being dealt with in support group.”

More from the interview—Gilmartin on the concept of relatability:

If I had it totally together, I also think it would be a little boring. What I thought was lacking in the self-help genre—I cringe even using the word, because it’s got so many connotations to it—it was all either New Age-y and precious, people talking about releasing their buttocks into Mother Earth, you know, all that other shit that makes me cringe, or it was kind of somebody speaking from the mountaintop that had learned it all in a textbook like Dr. Phil, and neither of those could I relate to. But I could relate to people in my support groups, who were just like me, so I thought, ‘Why don’t I bring that dynamic to talking about mental illness or just battles in our heads?’…

And, on the question of involving therapists on his show:

I wouldn’t have a therapist on who hadn’t listened to the show and wasn’t familiar with the tone of it, because they could be very off-put by me cracking a joke in the middle of, you know, talking about sexual trauma. The one thing I’ve learned from my support groups is, laughter about really dark shit is one of the most healing things you can experience, and much like when somebody has cancer, you think, ‘I can’t crack any jokes when I’m around this person because this disease is serious.’ No, quite the opposite, because this person is longing for some type of humor… Nobody understands that line of when you can crack a joke about something tragic like somebody who has experienced that same tragedy. Friends of mine who have been sexualized by a parent or had a parent attempt suicide or all this stuff that I’ve been through, we crack some really dark jokes around each other, and it feels great, because it’s really cathartic, and that’s the other thing that I feel like a Dr. Phil could never do, because he hasn’t lived it. He hasn’t earned the right to crack those jokes, in my opinion.

The Mental Illness Happy Hour is found at